The Jesus Prayer 18 – Repentance

This series of reflections is on The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

What’s the point of repentance? It’s important to understand the Christian (and older Hebrew) idea underlying it as a change in direction or a turning rather than a sense of sorrow. (I know it took me a while to figure that out given my background.) But even once you understand that fact, what is the ongoing process of repentance within Christian life meant to accomplish? And that’s tied to the idea of salvation.

Salvation means healing from the sickness of sin, so we are always seeking to confront the sin that infects us, and be healed at ever deeper levels. We spoke earlier about having a sense of urgency in our spiritual lives, and this is the root of that urgency. The lingering presence of sin damages our ability to see reality clearly. It darkens the nous. Sin also strengthens the power of the evil one, and helps him spread suffering and injustice in the world. No wonder we yearn for everything that is bent or damaged in us to be burned away by the radiance of Christ.

Another danger Khouria Frederica discusses is the state of acedia. It’s a state of despair when we decide to rid ourselves of one particular sin, but fail again and again, eventually giving up on salvation.

But the Lord may know something about the underlying structure of your sin that you don’t. It may be that some other debility, maybe something you’re not even aware of, is holding that big sin in place, and that has to be dealt with first. You might think that the Lord cannot stand the presence of your ugly sin, but he has been standing it a long time already, and he’s not going to stop loving you now. If he can be patient enough to bring about a healing that is permanent, you can too; all you have to do is let him love you.

And that’s why we must never abandon repentance. I read once of a monastic saying about the life of a monk: “We fall down and get back up. We fall down and get back up.” In many ways that describes us all.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted April 15, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m still struggling with the idea of Sin. I’m still too steeped in the Augustinian idea of Original Sin that condemned me before I was born and the Evangelical idea that sin makes me so disgusting to God that he can’t look at me without the Jesus sunglasses. I don’t accept that those ideas are correct any longer and I am coming to see that there are some other much healthier ways of defining sin (thanks for all your blogging on Orthodoxy) but there is still that knee-jerk self-hatred when I see the word sin or try to request mercy for myself. Sigh.

  2. Posted April 15, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I can empathize. I long struggled trying to grasp what Christianity really meant by that word, though for very different reasons. I did keep hearing explanations like the ones you mentioned, but since I was an adult without any real predisposition to accept them, they mostly got the Spock raised eyebrow reaction from me. (Internally, that is. My life has conditioned me to be able to smile and nod pleasantly even if I believe you’re completely off your rocker.) I also intuitively distrust an approach that basically says that before you can be a Christian, you first have to somehow feel bad about yourself. It can be effective, since most of us have done things over the course of our lives about which we feel badly, but it’s manipulative and paints God in a bad light.

    Almost everyone in any tradition will tell you that the Christian concept of ‘sin’ is most closely tied to the idea of missing the mark. Most people, however, don’t even notice that the statement begs the question: What’s the mark? For Christians, the ‘mark’ is, of course, love of God and others (which is one thing, not two separate things) and union with Christ. So when we miss the mark, we fail to love as human beings should and we try to distance ourselves from God.

    When we repent, then, we keep turning back to God and we keep trying to love. But we’re not good at it and we usually get ourselves and others all twisted up and damaged. So when we pray for mercy, we are asking for help and healing. God offers both in overflowing abundance. He gives us himself (or as much of him as we can bear) to help us.

    The Jesus Prayer, in particular, simply asks for mercy because, if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t actually know what sort of help we need most of the time. In fact, we sometimes don’t want the help we truly do need. Sometimes we’re afraid of being healed. We are often impatient, but God’s not in a rush. I try to remember that fact.

  3. Posted April 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Thank you that was a really nice explanation. One I can both intellectually grasp and also let sink past the Reason and into the soul. I will be chewing on this description for a while.
    May I repost with credit and a link on my blog?

  4. Posted April 15, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    Sure. If you think anything would be helpful for others to read, feel free.

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